Friday, October 29, 2010

Seabourn Price Increases: Everyone Take A Breath

On October 18, 2010 I warned everyone that Seabourn was going to be increasing prices.  You can read the "I Told You So" here

But you need to keep the price increase in perspective.  Prices are actually not increasing, but normalizing.  Over the past 18 months Seabourn's pricing has been low to, in my opinion, a fault.  You are going to be seeing "rational" pricing; that is pricing reflective of the luxury product you receive and, oh yes, the prices you previously paid.

To be fair, there will be sticker shock on some very strong selling cruises, but the sky is not falling.  I will give you two examples:

1.  A client sent me a very emotional email about how Seabourn just ran her off the ship with the new pricing.  But, after taking a breath and looking at the cruises she actually was interested in...Seabourn's pricing today for a 14 day Med cruise in September 2011 is lower than it was in September 2010 (at least for now: HINT HINT).  She smartly booked her cruise.

2.  Another client called with some concern, but admitted that they had paid for a cruise in 2011 and that Seabourn had priced it just at the top of what they would spend...only for Seabourn to slash the price saving them thousands of dollars which they were happy to not spend, but which had no effect on whether they would take the cruise.  In other words, Seabourn lost thousands...and I have a few clients on that same cruise!

So remember:  There is still great value and Seabourn is not raising its pricing on every cruise.  It is actually normalizing its prices after offering so many cruises at ridiculously low prices. The key is still to book early because  Seabourn is not going to engage in the same pricing strategies it has in the recent past.

If you have any questions, please email me at eric@goldringtravel.com or call me at (877)2GO-LUXURY or one on of my international numbers or on Skype or on Facebook or...you get the idea.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Santitize Good Comments on a Message Board: MeasuredUp.com and Rip Off Report - Case Studies

As you know I have a thing about message boards.  Are some anything more than advertisements?  Are some feigning critical analysis, but really just allow the posting of its agenda?  Are some just venues for people to post nasty comments?

Well, today I had a very interesting thing happen.  I was contacted by a company, Hearthside Distributors, which I used to purchase two rather hard to find sizes of gas fireplace log units for my then home: a 1901 built classic overlooking the New York skyline.  The selection, advise and pricing was very good and I was pleased.  (I mean these units were not stripped down to fit, they were designed to fit and were beautiful to look at.)

Fast forward to today and I received an email from Hearthside seeking assistance from its satisfied customers because there was this website http://www.measuredup.com/ that seemed to have posted mostly negative comments from people and it just didn't make sense.

Because I am happy to support excellent service, I logged onto MeasuredUp and wrote a very nice testimonial.  I received a note that it would be reviewed and, if approved, it would be posted.  OK. 

But then I received a second email stating it was rejected for one of a host of possible reasons.  So I enquired as to what the specific reason was and was told it was "incomplete" (like that would ever happen with me! LOL) and seemed like spam.

After going back and forth, and to make a long story short, despite my justifying myself and my post, I was told I would have to resubmit it because its automatic spam filter deletes any suspect post.  That's right:  A glowingly positive post was deleted because it was considered spam...while the brutally negative posts were considered legitimate.  (Now, why would it be deleted rather than archived so that it could be reviewed?  Curious, isn't it?)

The result is anyone anyone who looks up the Hearthside Distributors on the site would get the absolutely false impression that it was a bad company to do business with when, in fact, it is quite the opposite.  Imagine the damage done to the company because MeasuredUp has programmed its site to be negative.  (We all know controversy is more interesting.)  Supposedly after I brought this to the attention of Hearthside the spam filter has been adjusted, but who knows and for how long?

Another example, if you Google my name you will find one of the top listing being from a site called Rip Off Report concerning a 2003 (that's right 7 years ago) incident. This is a site which is similarly (it seems) designed to post only negative comments. If you were to read the post, it would seem like I was a pretty unsavory character and would have no idea that every court, including the New Jersey Supreme Court, rejected the poster's assertions as being false and without merit.  A few years later on a whim I wrote a rebuttal...which you only see if you scroll down (i.e. there is no notice of there being a rebuttal unless you look for it!).  The owner of the site wrote back in part that I should be happy that I was given the ability to write a rebuttal.  (Forgetting the rebuttal is pretty much hidden and doesn't show up on Google.)  He has no regrets or believe that the truth is important to his site...just keeping it up and running.  (Seriously, you can read his post too.)

As you know, I have noted for years that Cruise Critic has become virtually a wasteland of negativism and misinformation controlled by but a few and the luxury boards (Seabourn, Regent, Silversea, etc.) moderated by a host that is so arrogant that he admits moderating and making inappropriate comments when he drank too much...and Cruise Critic accepts that and defends him.  Not my words or an unsupported allegation.  You can read his words admitting it.

Hopefully by providing you with a number of examples of how the Internet is being used in ways you probably never thought of to advance negative comment rather than all factual truths (whether positive or negative) you can better measure up whether your that cruise criticism you just read is a rip-off.

It is, in part, why I started The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.  There is a presently a discussion about whether my comments concerning Regent Seven Sea Cruises' handling of compensation for the cancelled Voyager cruises was fair or skewed toward Celebrity.  I am not perfect and I will never sanitize or block a differing view. that might show that imperfection...or differing perception.  You need all the information to make your own decisions.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Regent Seven Seas - A Lack of Class...Again. Silversea Cruises - Quite Another Thing

Attitude, product delivery, responsiveness, etc. all starts at the top and trickles down.  Who would you do business with:  The company that seeks to substantively engage you or the one that arrogantly seeks to embarrass a competitor and to increase conflict? 

Let me explain why I "ask" (the answer is pretty obvious, isn't it?). 

I spent the last five days at the Ensemble Travel Group annual conference.  While the vast majority of what goes on at the conference is to stay at the conference there were two very contrasting events that happened which I think are worthy of discussing because they highlight, in part, how I formulate my perception of cruise lines, which ones I believe are able to meet or exceed my client's expectations...and which ones, whether I agree with them or not, are honestly trying to deliver the best they can.

That said, and in the interest of being as up front as possible, I preface the following by stating that I have no real respect for Mark Conroy, the figurehead of Regent Seven Seas Cruises and, to be sure, he has made it known the feeling is mutual. The reason will be obvious.

Back in December 2008 I wrote a piece on an Open Letter from Mark Conroy wherein I commented, "While the letter is refreshing on its face, I have to wonder why it is it took so long to admit to everyone that Regent was not delivering the luxury product it charges such a high premium for. I have consistently commented that Regent's food is not "luxury", that its amenities were downgraded to essentially "common", that its crew training and performance was poor and, most importantly, there was very little consistency of product on the same ship, no less across the ships."


Then in March 2009 I wrote a piece Is It Time for Mark Conroy to Depart Regent Seven Seas?  In that article I queried why it took the takeover by Apollo Management (Prestige Cruise Holdings) to have the sagging quality on Regent (ships and service) to be identified and why was "Six Star Luxury" being pushed just as the ships were clearly showing their flaws.
 
Fast forward to October 2010.  I have been very critical here about Regent Seven Sea's handling of the compensation end of the Seven Seas Voyager's cancelled cruises and even more so about Regent hawking "FREE" pre-cruise hotel stays when they clearly are not "free", which you can read here
 
Now despite efforts for us to meet and clear the air, apparently Mark Conroy has declined.  In fact, this past week he begrudgingly shook my hand one day when I was with a group of people and on another occassion he faked that he didn't know who I was when he realized he just walked into a group that I was socializing with. But his arrogance and inappropriateness was not limited to his dealings with me. 
 
During the Regent Seven Seas presentation, with Holland America's representatives in the room, he laid out a rather skewed and unfair analysis as to why Regent was a better value than HAL.  Folks, such things are classless.  It was quite a subject about how inappropriate Mark Conroy was to intentionally attack a fellow cruise executive's product in such a venue...an executive that took the stage on moments later (and, with great class and a smile, stood his ground and pointed out HAL's strengths).  Just as I chose not to embarrass Mark Conroy during my encounters with him, there is a clearly classy way to do business...and then there is the other way. 
 
My observation is that Regent Seven Seas president chose the "It's all about me!" along with a slightly dishonest approach in order to make himself look better than he really is.  It is, to me, fair to conclude that Regent's tolerance of such misconduct bleeds over to its product deliver to the cruising public.  (Now consider the "FREE" promotion and the "Six Star Luxury" pitches!)
 
While I intend on writing in much more detail on this later, I contrast that the executives from Silversea (Ken Watson, Steven Tucker and others) actively sought me out, bought me a drink, had a very frank, open and honest discussion with me for about two hours (which will remain private!) and have made an active and impressive effort to really open up a dialogue at the highest levels...and with a very positive attitude.
 
Silversea has shown to me a commitment to do what it can with class and, while with the hope and belief that it will cause me to support its product, it knows that unless and until I am comfortable that Silversea delivers a defined and consistent product over an extended period, I will remain cautious.  And, to that end, Silversea knows that sweet-talking me isn't going to work...so the discussions were not focused on playing me that way.  They were excellent discussions.
 
Now, about that travel agent telling you that its biggest supplier, Regent Seven Seas, is doing everything the right way and treating you fairly...?
 
Your interests are my interests.  You are entitled to the what has been offered to you and Goldring Travel works to assure that and now you know a little bit more of what goes into the rationale and why it affects my recommendations to you.
 
Join the discussion on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Celebrity Century - Rudder Repair Update - October 25 Cruise is Good to Go!

Celebrity Century® Update - (October 24, 2010) - "We continue to be on schedule to complete the repairs in time for Celebrity Century's next scheduled sailing from Barcelona on October 25. Both of the ship's rudders were reinstalled last night, and later today, the shipyard will begin flooding the dry dock. Celebrity Century is scheduled to depart for Barcelona at midnight."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Regent Seven Seas Voyager - Repair Update

Seven Seas Voyager Update: October 20th


According to Regent, "Seven Seas Voyager is currently in dry dock undergoing repairs which are proceeding on schedule. At this time, should no unforeseen circumstances arise, we fully expect the October 27th voyage to depart as planned."

Celebrity Century - Rudder Repair Update

Celebrity Century Update


"Celebrity Cruises continues to work on repairs to Celebrity Century's rudders. The ship sailed as planned from Villefranche to Marseilles, where she is currently in wet dock. While the ship has been alongside in Marseilles, divers from the United States, Canada and France have been working tirelessly on steps that must be completed before the dry dock work can begin. We have been working closely with the shipyard and French port authorities and feel confident that the ship will be able to enter a dry dock as scheduled later this week.

We are pleased with the progress that has been made in wet dock and are on schedule to complete the repairs before Celebrity Century's next scheduled sailing from Barcelona on October 25. We encourage guests on the October 25 sailing of Celebrity Century to monitor Celebrity Cruises' website - www.celebritycruises.com - for additional updates on the repairs."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Regent Seven Seas Cruises - "FREE Luxury Hotel Package"

I have truly had it with this one.  Regent has just announced that it is rolling out a luxury hotel package that is included with your cruise.  It uses the word "FREE" in all capital letters.

To be sure the package looks attractive:

• 1-Night pre-cruise hotel accommodations in city of embarkation at a luxury hotel
• Transfers from the airport to the hotel (restrictions apply for cruise-only guests) and from the hotel to the ship
• Breakfast prior to checkout
• Porterage

But then there are the caveats...essentially it is only FREE if you paid a fare available after the price hike on October 1, 2010 and if there are three in a suite you get to pay an additional $300. 

So let me get this right:  The FREE hotel package is only available if you paid a higher price and if you are not a third person in a suite.

Call me silly, but that sounds like it is a blatent case of consumer fraud.  The FREE hotel package is NOT FREE.  You are paying for it because, as I have said from the beginning of this deceptive practice, the cruise fare has been jacked up to cover the cost of it.

Folks, if you like the Regent Seven Seas product and like the fact that everything is packaged together, that is great.  BUT, and this is a big BUT, do not think for a minute that anything Regent is including is FREE. 

I have a very hard time doing business with someone that isn't honest with me.  What do you think?  Join the discussion on The Gold Standard Forum.

Regent Seven Seas Voyager - Cancelled Cruises...The Insurance Issue

Like a moth attracted to a light bulb, I admit I have been checking Cruise Critic and Luxury Cruise Talk message boards to see what the few vocal folks have to say and, now what those non-lawyers have to say about Regent Seven Sea Cruises' refusal to reimburse the cost of the RegentCare Insurance it sold to many guests for these cancelled cruises.

As an attorney and a travel agent and a member of the International Forum of Travel and Tourism Advocates I think I may have a bit of better handle on this topic than TravelCat2 and the others.  Maybe, huh? 

Travel Law - yes there is such a thing - comes into play.

First, what does the policy actually say?  While a certain usual suspect quotes certain language out of context, I was drawn to General Plan Exclusions on Page 11 of its Terms and Conditions (here are the RegentCare terms).  It states, quite clearly, "IN PARTS A & B:  WE WILL NOT PAY FOR ANY LOSS CAUSED BY OR INCURRED RESULTING FROM:...12. failure of any tour operator, Common Carrier, or other travel supplier, person or agency to provide the bargained-for travel arrangements".

Part A covers "Travel Arrangement Protection" and Part B covers "Medical Protection" The policy defines a Common Carrier as "any land, water or air conveyance operated under a license for the transportation of passengers for hire."

In other words, there is no insurance coverage under the RegentCare policy for Regent's failure to provide the cruise.

Second, what is Regent's obligation under the law?  There is no question that under the laws of various countries in Europe, Regent would be held responsible for not only the return of the cruise fare, but the cost of repatriating the passengers and their incidental expenses as well as, possibly, damages from inconvenience and the like.  Although I do not have any cases on point at the moment, I am quite confident from reading many cases in the past, that a future cruise credit that requires to you purchase another cruise in order to utilize same is not satisfactory under those laws.  (There is a poster on Cruise Critic, CruisinGerman, that has been asserting this point, but has been abused - as is done on Cruise Critic - rather than asked for more information.  Don't get me started again on that!)

There are very few cases in the United States on this point, but the fact is that the economies associated with bringing such a claim just aren't there.  It is not that the case itself is necessarily that difficult or time consuming, it is that there are contractual provisions in the cruise contract that make the burden far greater than it should be.  (This is not a slight on Regent, almost all of the cruise lines do this.)

But there is a simple concept that seems to be missed by many:  There is a contract to provide a cruise and there was a clear breach of that contract.  The same party that breached the contract to provide the cruise sold the insurance policy as part of the cruise package; it may have been optional, but it was sold as part of the package.  It was charged on the same invoice and is integrally linked to the cruise. 

The interesting part to me is that the policy specifically states it does not apply to Regent's failure to perform (breach).  Hence, Regent has sold an insurance policy that is, to my mind, void ab initio (or void from the outset) and/or possibly violative of the applicable Consumer Fraud Acts.  For example, here in New Jersey if there is a material omission, whether intentional or not, by a seller it triggers a violation under the CFA.  The fact that Regent does not expressly disclose that the insurance does not insure against a breach by Regent in my opinion triggers the significant penalties under the Act. 

Third, does it matterTo me the incident and its handling is a customer service nightmare for Regent Seven Seas Cruises.  When you have spent millions and millions of dollars marketing yourself as a "6 Star" (whatever that is) Cruise Line; as everything being "Free.  Free.  Free"; as being "The Most Inclusive Cruise Line"...and you have some of the highest fares in the industry, you better do more - much more - than a cruise line that has people spending $1,500 per person on a cruise (Celebrity Century, for example, who gave a 25% cruise credit plus much of the same as Regent did...it didn't need hotels because the ship was used for days). 

Regent's providing hotels because the ship was no longer available and tours was definitely the right thing to do.  Regent's not providing the ideal connections at whatever cost was totally appropriate.  But it ends there:

1.  Limiting compensation for third party air;

2.  Providing a lousy $1,000 future cruise credit (small enough so it will still turn a profit on the damaged guests when (if) they take their next cruise!); and,

3.  Keeping the insurance premiums which became worthless due only to Regent's breach of contract,

are not things that win me over or, I believe, even marginally meet Regent's legal, moral or marketing obligations.

So read on how those guests used their cruise insurance or how it might be able applied to another Regent cruise..and then ask yourself:  "I wonder what Regent is getting paid from any insurance policy it may have for such an incident or any liability of the azipod manufacturer or repairer under a warranty or contract claim?"

You think there is a "super" travel agent that knows all things Regent?  Think about whether she explained these things to you...or if she is more concerned with protecting her commissions (present and future) and not rocking the boat with the cruise line she does the most business with. 

As for me (the obvious question):  I write this stuff and it is out there for ever.  Do you really think I would change my position? Nope:  My clients are my main concern. But then again, it is also why I am so supportive of The Yachts of Seabourn.  I am extremely confident this would never happen.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Seabourn's New Pricing Strategy: Book Now or Pay More Because Prices are Going Up

For the past couple of years, as the economy has struggled, Seabourn engaged in a pricing strategy that made absolutely no sense to me...and was very frustrating for guests as they feared booking early was going to result in them paying more than those that waited...and, honestly, me because I have spent huge amounts of time honoring my commitment to provide my clients with the lowest price right up until the time of final payment.

Seabourn has just changed its pricing policy.  Now, as I have been urging for months I might add, it is now unequivocally to your benefit to book early. 

"Effective immediately, Seabourn is adopting a new pricing strategy for 2011 aimed at definitively restoring the advantage of early booking. From now on, every promotional offer we make will have a set book-by date, after which the offer will expire. And as each offer expires, fares for a selection of cruises will increase. For instance, the first book-by date is October 31. On November 1, fares for a selection of 19 2011 cruise departures, in different regions and on different Seabourn yachts, will be raised between $200 and $800 per couple.  The next book-by date expires December 31. On January 1, 2011, an additional set of fare increases will be announced, which may include some of the same cruises, or a different group of departures, or both. Then book-by dates will be set and fares will continue to increase periodically as deemed appropriate."

So I am repeating what I have been saying for quite a while now:  Book Now!  There is absolutely no disadvantage to doing so.  All deposits are fully refundable up until the final payment date and Goldring Travel never charges a change or cancellation fee.

Please feel free to email, Skype me or call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY.

Cruise Critic - Talk About Perverting the Truth...OK, Lets

On Cruise Critic there has been a long thread about the saga of the Regent Seven Seas Voyager's azipod issues that is now plaguing the ship (and which are being repaired).  While the thread initially was about the ordeal of the cancelled cruise and then what type of compensation was appropriate.  But, as happens on the Regent board on Cruise Critic, the posts became an all out onslaught about how you need to use the best travel agent and they all had, funnily enough, the same travel agent and their email addresses available so that they could refer folks to this supposed bastion of travel agency superiority and integrity.

I comment not on the travel agent, or for that matter, on her small legion of clients/marketers for her, but rather Cruise Critic and its luxury cruise board moderator, Host Dan. 

This morning I saw a post from someone saying something along the lines, of "Wait a minute.  You few posters are singing the praises of this supposed all-knowing travel agent and what a great job she is doing, but let's make sure that she really is.  Isn't possible that she is improperly advising her clients as to their rights, appropriate compensation, available remedies, etc. because it is purely in her self-interest to keep her clients "ignorant and happy"?" 

As a reader of Cruise Critic I would think the question is an excellent one.  Seriously, if the "super" travel agent could be financially injured by claims or just time expended related to the claims of her clients or if her relationship was so close with Regent Seven Seas that she knew her where her "bread was truly buttered" and that skewed her advice, it would seem a discussion about that would be absolutely legitimate.  There were no accusations, just a tempered observation and question.

The post which clearly did not violate a single rule on Cruise Critic was removed.  But for days the posts which clearly did violate Cruise Critic's rules remained. 

Meanwhile on the Seabourn board at Cruise Critic, one of the most popular and well read posters (Granny Lorr) was temporarily banned by the same Host Dan for doing virtually (if not literally) the same thing.  (Full disclosure:  Granny Lorr is a client of mine and has made that known publicly.  It is also true that Host Dan has a very bad history with me; especially since I disclosed his troublesome antics involving abuse of other guests and staff on Seabourn.)

I must pause here and ask, "If Cruise Critic was actually a legitimate source for accurate information wouldn't it want discussion about the quality of its posters 'advice' and 'recommendations'?"  To delete a post from a person saying, "Wait a minute.  Think about what is being said."

Back when I was active in posting on Cruise Critic there were literally dozens and dozens of more posters and much more in the way of accurate and relevant information.  (Do I really want to hear that a pet peeve is that when you temporarily leave the table at dinner Seabourn removes your dirty napkin you left on the back of your chair for everyone else to look at while they eat because you do not want a clean napkin?  Do I want to hear TravelCat2 go on and on about things she truly knows nothing about and then abusively repeating it over and over so that in the end her voice and inaccuracies are nearly the only thing that remains?)

How about Cruise Critic getting back to allowing folks to honestly talk about the truth rather than play games with it?  Or, better, how about the referee making honest calls?  (Anyone see the penalty called on Jim Leonard of the New York Jets yesterday?  A textbook sideline tackle was called for a penalty.  It was not a close call.  It was, either through total and utter incompetence or dishonesty, a horrible call.)

If the NFL will not allow its officials to keep making such clearly bad calls because it does not want the quality of its product to be perverted, it makes you wonder if Cruise Critic cares about its reputation or the quality of its product because the bad calls there are constant.

Want to join the discussion?  Check out The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.

Friday, October 15, 2010

'Tis The Season of Ship Happening: Celebrity Century Cancels Cruises - Updated

Celebrity Cruise's Century has just cancelled its October 13, 2010 cruise after sailing out of Barcelona, apparently due to loss of some control with its rudders (not sure if it is one or both).  (It is has traditional propellers and rudders, rather than azipods like the under-repair Regent Seven Seas Voyager.) 

I have also heard, but cannot confirm, that Celebrity may also be cancelling its October 25, 2010 transatlantic crossing.  (HINT:  There will be a crossing at some point, so there probably will be some incredible deals out there shortly!!!) Century will be back on schedule for her October 25, 2010 cruise.


As I understand it, Celebrity is allowing its guests to stay onboard the ship, which is presently at or near Villefranche, France, until Saturday and will then (due the obviously unavailability of flights from there) bus guests back to Barcelona for flights home.  Do remember that France is "on strike" so flying out of Nice would be an issue...even if there were more flights.

In any event, Celebrity is doing far better at taking financial care of its guests than the pseudo-luxury line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is for it stranded Voyager guests.  (Haven't I repeatedly said that Celebrity provides better service than Regent?!)  Celebrity is providing a full refund of the cruise fare and a future cruise credit equal to 25% of the amount paid for the cruise...not Regent's average of slightly more than 10%. 

As for those flights, I understand that Celebrity has flown over support staff to assist and is, as of now, paying the estimated change fee for any guest's return flight ($250-$300) and making arrangements for anyone who booked air with Celebrity. 

Yes, ship happens, but it is how the cruise line responds when it happens that can truly make a difference.  Celebrity, not a luxury line, is doing more (or, most certainly, no less than) for its guests in the way of compensation than the pseudo-luxury line, Regent. It understands that in the end, it will be the service and the appreciation of the guest's dollars and inconvenience that will be remembered, not the "beans counted".

When there are no good solutions, you have to go with the best reasonable solution available. But when you signal not that you are going to throw money at people, but the other extreme:  that you are "cheaping out" it is another thing. 

As I have repeatedly said, Celebrity provides "the best bang for the buck in the business" and this, unfortunately, is just another example of when comparing it to Regent and its pricing, I am hard-pressed to find a good reason to endorse Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

I will keep you posted on the status of the Celebrity Century as well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Regent Seven Seas Voyager - Cancelled Cruises, Frustration...and Idiots

I love the way people all become experts on anything dealing with anything...especially cruises.  The vast majority of people have absolutely no idea what goes into running a tender, no less a cruise ship or a cruise line.  Yet these folks, unfortunately, stir up innocent folks affected by the unfortunate issues with the Regent Seven Seas Voyager by making idiotic comments and pontificating facts which are nothing other than fantasy.

ENOUGH!

From my perspective (and I think I know a bit more about how things like this work) let me offer the following:

1.  It takes time to first identify the problem...and then formulate a probable solution.  "It don't work" is not the problem...it is a symptom of the problem.  Just like going to the doctor tests have to be run, possibilities eliminated and then a course of treatment prescribed.  The fact that the ship hit the drydock doesn't mean it is even hauled.  It means the dry dock is prepared and the ship is brought in, secured, and then it is first ready to be worked on.  That can take the better part of a day.  Then, after the ship systems are secured, the pod is first opened and the process begins.  Then, once the process begins the concepts of what parts may be needed, what are their availability (or do they need to be fabricated), etc. comes into play.  It takes days or longer; not hours.

2.  Giving quick and ultimately inaccurate information is worse than keeping your mouth shut until you know something!  In this world of needing instant gratification more and more, let's take a breath and think about this:  Regent has told everyone that the ship will be out of service until October 27, 2010.  You do not need to know when the toilet paper is running low or when it is being delivered...merely that it is there when you expect it or there will be an issue.  At this point, Regent saying X can result in complaints when X isn't the ultimate accurate answer and it, unfortunately, gives fodder to those that want to stir things up.  The fact that some want to speculate doesn't mean that speculating should be encouraged...or worse, engaged in.  I am confident that Regent will let people know if there is an issue that it believes will adversely impact the October 27th sailing.  Until it knows something it is keeping its mouth shut...and with good reason.

3.  Regent's "compensation" to the guests is unacceptable.  It is mind-boggling to me how compensation equal to nothing more than an invitation to spend more money with Regent (i.e. the $1,000 future cruise credit) can be seen as nothing other than "snow in winter".  Similarly, offering to fill otherwise unsold berths on close-in sailings (they would be empty anyway) but only if you waive any form of actual compensation is no better.  I do not run Regent and cannot tell you how or why this decision was made  (bean counters?).  What I can do is compare it to what its competition does.  What I do know is that if Seabourn is in an oversold situation, it provides voluntary guests willing to change plans not only return of the cruise fare, but a complimentary cruise along with some other benefits.  To me the Regent situation is worse...because the guests were already there and had no choice. I just don't get it.

4.  Travel insurance will be of little help.  Travel insurance provides for the return of your cruise fare under certain circumstances and a few other benefits.  Regent is already providing that, so spending time fighting for compensation from a third party travel insurer isn't going to net much.  The best argument may be along the lines of trip interruption coverage...but that may, in some policies, only pay to get you to your final port so you can fly home.  You cannot listen to general less-than-expert advice.

5.  Air Fares Are Not Worth Zero. There is much discussion about what the remainder of the airline tickets are worth and if the air, in its entirety, should be compensated.  From what I am hearing, the best thing to do is see Points 3 and 4 above. 

6.  Regent is Not Going to Pay Unrestricted Air Fares. As for Regent not arranging the most direct business class flights, the reason is obvious:  You can pay more than the cost of the cruise to get that seat, while it can cost 25% of that amount to have the guests chill in a nice hotel for a couple of days.  (It's not like there was something planned they have to get back to.)  It is an inconvenience during a stressful time, but it is economics not emotions that are involved here. 
In a few paragraphs over 20 pages of Cruise Critic, Luxury Cruise Talk and others rantings have been discussed and resolved to the extent they can be.  It really isn't that hard.

What is hard is how Regent Seven Seas Cruises can recover from the concerns over the failure-prone Voyager and the black-eye for its less than appropriate compensation to the inconvenienced...and worse..guests.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Regent Seven Seas Voyager - Cruises Canceled, But On The Way For Repairs

Regent Seven Seas Voyager has sailed from Piraeus to Marseille for drydock repairs to its podded propulsion system.  Traveling at 14.3 knots (well below her normal cruising speed, but certainly sailing competently) she is expected to arrive in Marseille early in the afternoon on Sunday. 
Although the time needed for repairs won’t be known until the ship is out of the water, Regent is currently working on a return to service date of Oct. 27. That cruise is a 12-night voyage from Athens to Barcelona. Last year when the system underwent repairs at T. Mariotti in Genoa, Voyager was out of service for approximately four weeks.

Regent Seven Seas Voyager - Canceled Cruises and Loose Lips

The other day a well respected and long time naturalist for Regent, Terry Breen, made a comment somewhere that the repairs to the Regent Voyager's broken azipod could take a month.  This set off a whirlwind of "OMG, my cruise is probably canceled even though Regent Seven Seas hasn't yet canceled it" followed by "OMG, I wonder if my cruise after the one that hasn't been canceled will be canceled."

Today where was a sort of retraction by Ms. Breen emailed to all of those who receive her updates (which includes me).  She wrote, "Just a follow-up on the Voyager; just heard back from the ship and the repair will not be in Genova and is NOT extensive. They will be back on schedule for the next cruise. So good news! Just wanted to quell any concerns. You know how rumors fly. All will be well. Cheers! "

Update:  After I wrote this article I received a second email blast from Ms. Breen wherein she wrote, in relvant part "Let me be clear --- I am not an official spokesperson for Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Until the official word comes from the office we are all just guessing --- guessing leads to rumors -- and rumors are worthless. I am hopeful. I know there are many people effected by this and every effort will be made to get her back on schedule as soon as possible." This, of course, does not make the following any less relevant.  In fact, it makes it moreso.

Now, of course, I received emails wondering if Ms. Breen is credible to rely upon for this information.  Noting that I truly respect Ms. Breen as a naturalist and have had the pleasure of enjoying her talents on cruise a couple of years ago, I will provide you with my response to one inquiry:

No, I have confidence Terry Breen is spouting off stuff that she has absolutely no idea about. (She is a naturalist, not an engineer or management.)  From my perspective, she clearly was speaking out of turn when she commented publicly that it could take a month and Regent told her to retract that because of the unnecessary upset she caused.  The fact of the matter is that at this point no one truly knows what the actual repair is going to be. Speculation is harmful. Conservative planning is necessary.

If you cannot commit to being out of a drydock which is committed to someone else in two weeks, it means you cannot use that dry dock. It has nothing to do with how long you estimate the repairs to be…if you know. It is not like you can drop a ship with a pulled apart pod back in the water and then pull her out whenever….especially if that second ship is planning an extended drydock herself. And, to be sure, I have no idea what (or if) final drydocking plans are in place. 

The “engineering experts” on Cruise Critic are, honestly, laughable and do nothing to make things more realistic for anyone. You are sweating your cruise, others theirs and these folks are just winding you up.  I am presently working on my presentation next week to the New York chapter of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers entitled, “ENGINEERING ISSUES AND HOW TO ADDRESS THEM MORE EFFICIENTLY FROM BOTH A LEGAL AND ENGINEERING PERSPECTIVE”. I am tempted to throw some of the Cruise Critic comments in as the opening joke.

This is a lot of wasted energy, frankly. And it is simply a thing that happens time and time again.  It will be after the weekend before anything of any consequence is known, so kick back and relax for a bit. Everyone should.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Oceania Nautica Cancels Important African Ports of Call

The last few days have been very frustrating and disappointing for a number of my clients who booked the Oceania Nautica's December 11, 2010 cruise from Capetown, South Africa to Singapore.  The reason is that the ports of Dar El Salaam and Zanzibar in Tanzania and Mombasa, Kenya were cancelled and replaced with port calls in more or less island/beach locales; clearly of an entirely different flavor.

Thus folks are now going to be taking a cruise that misses exactly why they were, in large part, taking this particular cruise.  In fact, two of clients selected this cruise because The Yachts of Seabourn cancelled a similar cruise about a year ago over security issues.  The difference is, of course, now these folks have paid in full and are in a significant penalty situation and, thus, have no real choice but to go.

I contacted Oceania about the situation and Senior Management was very quick to respond (always a very good thing) and offered that sharing the following information might be helpful.  While it may not take away any of the sting of disappointment, I believe the explanation is excellent and really explains that decisions such as this one are very expensive and not lightly made:

If there's anything that all cruise lines agree on, it's that there is no greater priority than the safety of our guests and crew. Unfortunately, eleventh-hour itinerary changes become necessary now and then to avoid the path of a storm in the Caribbean, because of political turmoil in the Middle East or for other reasons. (And Murphy's Law says that whatever ports are canceled are the ones that our guests were most looking forward to visiting).


With regard to this particular cruise, we received information from private security companies we work with in different parts of the world that certain potential risks existed if we went to these ports. (Not everything appears in newspapers, online or on TV). We checked with other sources and then after much discussion decided Sunday night to cancel these ports. We spent much of Monday finalizing a new itinerary and we began sending emails that night to advise our customers.

As disappointed as your clients are, we're even more disappointed. A lot of planning goes into developing our itineraries and when a significant change is necessary, we know it can upset some of our guests, which in turn upsets our travel agent partners. It creates quite a lot of additional work for us as we have to arrange for substitute ports and try to create a new itinerary that minimizes the differences from the original. Then we have to cancel all of our shore excursion arrangements in the canceled ports and make brand new arrangements with relatively little time compared to the normal planning that takes place. Nobody wins, except perhaps for the ground operators in the substitute ports.

Yes, ship happens and it happened here.  Hurricane.  Broken pod.  Strike in Marseilles. Whatever.  Travel is a fantastic thing...sometimes, though, it isn't perfect and there is nothing that can be done about it except to find a way to enjoy the change as best you can...and maybe, just maybe, there will be a pleasant surprise. 
 
However, if you don't look for it you may never find it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Regent Seven Seas Voyager - Cruises Canceled, Pod Problems & Possible Alternatives

Regent Seven Seas Cruises is struggling to make things as right as possible for its guests aboard its crippled Voyager for their October 3, 2010 cruise and for its guests who were to board her on October 17, 2010.  Having dealt with a similar problem during Voyager's 2009 World Cruise, Regent is acting quickly.

Presently it is working to get all of its 700 guests home from Athens and to be sure they are taken care of both while in Athens and for the future.  Guests are presently allowed to stay aboard the ship with full services ("only" a pod is broken), tours, entertainment, etc.  Those guests who cannot be flown out of Athens by tomorrow are going to be put up at the Intercontinental and given a $100 per day food allowance.  Regent hopes to have everyone on their way by week's end at the latest.

Regent is also offering a full refund of the cruise fare plus a $1,000 per person future cruise credit. 

As an alternative, if they choose to do so by October 15, 2010, the affected guests will be given the opportunity to sail on any of the following cruises (most of which are longer) without paying anything additional to what they have already paid:

Seven Seas Navigator, October 26, Bangkok – Sydney, 21 nights

Seven Seas Voyager, November 8, Barcelona – Fort Lauderdale, 15 nights
Seven Seas Mariner, November 8, Dubai - Cape Town, 25 nights
Seven Seas Navigator, December 1, Auckland – San Francisco, 20 nights
Seven Seas Mariner, December 3, Cape Town – Rio de Janeiro, 14 nights
Seven Seas Voyager, December 27, Fort Lauderdale - San Francisco, 17 nights
Seven Seas Voyager, January 14, San Francisco – Auckland, 25 nights
Seven Seas Voyager, February 23, Sydney - Beijing, 25 nights
Seven Seas Voyager, April 9, Bangkok - Dubai, 25 nights

It is unclear what, if anything, Regent is going to do for other expenses which are not covered by travel insurance.

I understand that ship happens and I will wait to see how all this plays out.  I am not, however, impressed with the offer as it relates to the October 3rd guests, at a minimum.  Regent hasn't, as I see it, even begun to cut into its profit margin by providing a $1,000 credit on a future cruise which on Regent will probably exceed $7,500 per guest.

Now as for the timing and extent of any repairs, it seems clear to me that there was a serious failure which will require not only a drydock, but parts that may or may not be available.  There is no purpose of drydocking a ship if the parts you need aren't where you need them, or for that matter, in existence.

I will keep you posted!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Regent Voyager - Here We Go Again: Cruises Canceled and Drydock to Follow

It has happened again:  The Regent Seven Seas Voyager has been disabled with a propulsion pod problem and its current cruise (and, it seems clear, an uncertain number of future cruises) has been canceled.

The ship is currently in Piraeus, Greece waiting for arrangements to be made at the most readily available drydocking facility in Genoa, Italy.

According to a Regent Seven Seas spokesman, "The ship will remain alongside (the dock) in Athens, Greece  [actually Piraeus] to hotel guests while arrangements are made to fly all guests back to their city of origin...Regent Seven Seas Cruises hopes to have all guests enroute back to their city of origin by Oct. 6."

Regent is presently working on disembarking all guests and will provide complimentary hotel accommodations in Athens if they cannot arrange for a departure by October 6, 2010.  In the meantime, "The ship’s services remain fully functional and complimentary tours in and around Athens are being offered to all guests over the next two days."

Regent's announcement continues, "We will provide further updates and details on the disposition of the ship's future voyages once the technical team has begun their assessment and established the timeframe needed for repairs."  It is, for sure, disconcerting when ship happens and, apparently, the cause of it happening is not readily known.

As for alternative cruises, for those booked on the Regent Voyager, I do not know what type of accomodation or notice Regent will be giving, but I am certain once it is determined it will act swiftly.

In the meantime, I know some folks are already looking at alternative cruises.  While Seabourn is pretty much sold out until its transatlantic crossings, there is space for them.  Hopefully the Regent Seven Seas Voyager will be back in service so as to not require that alternative, but it is something to keep in mind.

I will keep you posted.